Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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A Teacher’s Story

Alex always sat in the last row, his face
rigid as a cat’s before pouncing.

Once, I pulled down a map of Greece
to ask him a question

about the origins of democracy.
He walked to the class aquarium,

grabbed our angelfish and stabbed it
in the eye with his Sharpie. After the bell,

I tried to talk to him. He never looked at me.
He kept spinning a quarter on his desk

and shrieked: “I hate George Washington.
I hate George Washington’s fat face.”

The next day, his mother took him out
of school. At home, she taught him to shoot

stuffed animals off hay bales in the backyard.
When neighbors complained, she stockpiled

freeze-dried food and Bushmasters
in the cellar, booked a cruise to Mexico

with a boyfriend. Alex never slept.
All night he played World of Warcraft,

ate nothing but Marshmallow Fluff on toast.
By then, his father had moved

to California. The December morning
he crowbarred the door to the gym,

it was snowing hard. I’d just finished
teaching The Outsiders.

My nephew, Doug, watched as Alex marched
in his flak jacket and body armor

to the badminton class, ordered everyone
to lie down in a row beneath the net.

The pop, pop, pop sounded like firecrackers.
When the principal shouted “Lockdown!”

over the intercom, I hustled my students
into a closet, refused to believe

it was the police banging our door even
when the sirens stopped. Last March,

a demolition crew buried the gym
in a dump at the edge of town.

I’ve got a job in the new school
where Doug is now president

of his class and captain of the tennis team.
After one match, I asked him why

he shouted and shook his fist
at the sky with every long point he’d won.

He wiped the sweat off his face, looked
back at the net, and said nothing. 

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